There will be sunny days for stylish outdoor gatherings, but organisation is key, writes Carol O’Callaghan.
The sun is shining — so quick — get the garden table and chairs out and fire up the barbecue...
This cry will be heard all summer long, we hope — and, yes, it’s difficult to plan an outdoor gathering event a week ahead, when you live in Ireland.
Aren’t we all accustomed to the invitation text message beginning with the words ’weather permitting’? No wonder we don’t make a great effort with outdoor table styling and can’t see beyond resurrecting the barbecue from the shed.
If we can’t anticipate the weather, we can at least have our tablewares ready to hand for the dash outdoors, to make the best of the one balmy evening we’ll get per month, and create a back garden oasis where guests are sated and comfortable, and no one gets eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Casual is the buzzword when it comes to entertaining this season, with the recent royal wedding surprising all of us by taking the lead.
Reports of bowl food being served at Harry and Meghan’s wedding reception at Windsor Castle will have us running the dishwasher to get cereal bowls cleaned after breakfast and ready for our Saturday afternoon gathering.
Before the catering operation swings into action, set the scene by giving the garden, the patio, your cosy yard or compact balcony a makeover and an appealing first impression when guests arrive.
Outdoor chairs are notoriously hard and unyielding if you haven’t invested in models which come with seat and back pads.
Go bohemian with a styling approach which musters furry blankets and throws from obliging bedrooms and the living room sofa; add in your cushion collection and use the lot to vamp up seating arrangements.
Nicole McGee of interiors shop, Interiosity, says, ”You can never have too much soft furnishings like scatter cushions and throws for a real outdoor living feeling.
“We also love enamel tableware which is a pleasure to use and eat from — and practical for outdoors.
“Lanterns with candles are a must for atmosphere, and even a simple glass hurricane with a gentle flicker, can give you that continental glow, so stock up on votives and lanterns to create that special ambience.
When it comes to the table top, the casual approach looks as stylish as a formal layout with just a bit of planning.
Meadows and Byrne’s outdoor entertaining look hits an on-trend note. It’s kitchen buyer, Julie Donovan, says, “We’ve embraced the trend for outdoor entertaining with our family style paddle serving boards.
“That wooden style brings a little bit of the outdoors inside, but when used to serve up big platters at a barbecue, it really looks the part. It’s got that easy relaxed look to it, people can help themselves.
“It’s all very casual and that is how outdoor entertaining should be. Don’t be afraid to use real china and silverware outside.
It may be that lack of opportunity has led to undeveloped imaginations when it comes to outdoor entertaining, but, really, whipping out the barbecue and hosing it down in anticipation of a sunny day, is not the only option.
There’s nothing wrong with cooking dinner indoors and bringing it outside to eat, accompanied by a slew of salads, although you might be tempted by another option, especially if you have people coming and going at different times of the afternoon.
Lazy, all-day nibbling from a table regularly replenished with platters of fresh fruit, cheese and charcuterie boards and bread baskets, means food prep is done before guests arrive, so no slaving red-faced and perspiring over a smoky and uncooperative barbecue.
Presentation is key for this option, so launch an incursion into cabinets for large serving bowls and chopping boards.
Even fancy drinks’ trays repurposed will work. I’m partial to roof slates acquired from an obliging plasterer, cleaned and strewn with cheeses, halved fruit and charcuterie.
This unbuttoned approach is relaxing for hosts and will have guests wanting to lounge around drinking and grazing for hours.
Happy summer eating al fresco!
These Marine glass votive holders have a nautical aesthetic. Take three or four and dot them along the centre of your garden table after dark (€1.50 each at Dealz).
Colourful tablewares from the M&S summer collection offers guests a choice of the traditional plate or an on-trend bowl (plates from €19 for four, bowls €22 for four).
Wooden chopping boards make great serving platters for fruit, bread and charcuterie when entertaining casually outdoors (€14 from Ikea).